These Commonwealth gatherings mark Britain out as a quaint and bland place dominated for hundreds of years by a strange family. Its leaders huddle togeher in bemused subservience while Royals mumble patronising platitudes or casual racism. To be fair it’s what Britain does best: meaningless gatherings endlessly shuffling-about some incoherent vision of the future whilst quietly air-brushing our imperial past. This year though the Cabinet Office chose “Our Common Future” as the theme of the summit. If it’s anything like ‘our common past’ this will mean thousands of people being forcibly deported – shackled and restrained in planes leaving in the dead of night (‘7,600 deported to Commonwealth nations on ‘charter flights’ since 2010‘).
But if you thought the Commonwealth was just innocuous organisation was just limping into obscurity, you’d be wrong. Boris & Co are busy aligning ‘Our Common Future’ with ‘Global Britain’ and something they’re calling ‘the Anglosphere’ – basically all the pink bits revived as a sort of global trading bloc.
This zombie like re-animation is a cunning plan, but there are flaws.
It’s true there must be a market for leg-irons out there somewhere, but the thing about these places is, by definition they’re quite far away. There’s an environmental cost to shipping goods to the other side of the world and a straight financial cost too, but who cares about that? What’s also not clear is whether the dignitaries sipping warm wine at Commonwealth receptions are the same people who’ll be negotiating trade deals? You suspect not. Despite the unreconstructed vision of the Commonwealth countries as some amorphous undeveloped subservient blob, many of them are likely to play hard-ball with a Mother Country with a poor hand to play.
Nor are ‘we’ big and ‘they’ small. India, Pakistan, Nigeria and Bangladesh all dwarf Britain, while South Africa, Tanzania and Kenya aren’t far behind. Many face challenges that aren’t solved by buying British widgets or Pigs Ears. Tuvalu is drowning and that’s kind of got their focus right now.
What are we going to sell them and why should they care? Sure many will be happy with a sideline in grinding out some loot in a Paradise Papers sort of a way, but sixteen of the fifty-four countries have a population smaller than Fife.
Maybe I’m being too harsh? There is after all the Queen’s Canopy, an ambitious global programme to find meaning for Prince Harry by handing our plaques to Commonwealth Countries for not cutting down forests they’d never intended to cut down, thereby creating a suitable lasting testimony to all of this. If this project is exciting you, then you too can get involved. To mark the documentary ‘The Queen’s Green Planet’, the public are being invited to plant a tree as their own contribution to The Queen’s Commonwealth Canopy. Go here to join the Canopy.
If it’s churlish to think that the Anglosphere will really replace or rival the EU as a trading bloc, what function does it serve? In these pre-Meaghan days, it still serves as global forum for British soft power, even if it is exercised as if by a cast from Wallace and Gromit.
The Royal Family remains a symbol of the nation (Anglo-Britain) and a substitute for a democratic constitution.
It is endlessly re-creating itself, here a Green Queen, there a Feminist Princess, here a Humanitarian Prince: Social Justice Warriors practicing Polo. The Commonwealth is their Live Aid.
As Anthony Barnett has written: “The monarchy is a relationship: between the people and the Throne and between the Crown and a highly centralised state, to whom it provides a historic legitimacy”. It’s interesting to think how far the mistreatment of British subjects as in Windrush or mass deportation might affect that reality. But with a Royal Wedding around the corner, probably not at all.